Mexican Restaurants Threatened with ICE Because They Ask Customers to Wear Masks

Some state governments’ decision to lift orders to wear masks in public places is putting more pressure on restaurants, supermarkets, and other businesses that want to maintain coronavirus protection measures to protect their employees and customers. At the Mexican restaurant Picos in Houston, Texas, the pressure has reached the point of receiving hate messages and threats to report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

On March 2, Texas Governor Greg Abbot announced the statewide lifting of the mandatory wearing of masks in public places. But the Mexican restaurant Picos, which has been serving Houston for 37 years, and many other establishments, decided to continue asking their customers to wear masks to serve them.

According to media reports, the Picos restaurant has been the victim of insults and threats, and inappropriate behavior by customers who have rejected the business’s determination to require the use of masks. In one case, an Instagram commenter said he would call ICE to report the restaurant; the comment was first reported by the Washington Post.

“This gentleman was in disagreement with our policy because we were going against the governor and the mandate, and he was basically telling us, ‘You know, the governor has the ability to send (ICE) to check green cards,” said Arnaldo Richards, chef, and owner of the restaurant. “Why would he do something like that? Just because we’re a Mexican restaurant? I thought he was highly racist, and maybe if this restaurant were owned by Anglo(-Saxons), he would have never done that.”

Another Mexican restaurant in Houston, Cantina Brava, was also the target of similar threats. According to the Washington Post, employees have had to endure insults from upset customers who refuse to wear a mask.

“We’ve had threats of calling ICE. I had one guy just stand there and berate one of my bartenders and tell her, ‘you’re an absolute idiot, you don’t know what you’re doing. If you think these masks are going to save your life, you’re stupid’ blah, blah, blah. Nobody wants to deal with that stuff,” Steven O’Sullivan, co-owner of Cantina Brava, told the Post.

The Texas Restaurant Association surveyed 700 businesses that expressed a preference for their employees to continue to wear masks until they are vaccinated. Still, opinions are divided on requiring customers to wear masks, although they urged them to maintain safety protocol.

ICE spokesmen told CNN they could not comment on whether they received complaints about Mexican restaurants in Houston. However, they said that “any attempt to misuse federal law enforcement to target an individual or business in retaliation for their COVID-19 safety protocols is not only irresponsible but a gross abuse of taxpayer funding.”

Likewise, Hoston Police Chief Art Acevedo, speaking to MSNBC, reminded residents that businesses have the right to impose their own rules regarding the use of masks on their premises.

“Forget what the governor says. Forget what the law says. What does our own humanity call upon us to do? That’s to be cognizant that this is one of the best things we can do, is wearing a mask, to keep each other safe,” Acevedo said.